Medical training is an intense and life altering experience every doctor must go through for at least 6 years. When you’re done the training, you’re able to deal with all sorts of diseases and emergencies.
You can restart a heart with paddles and high joule electrical shocks. You can stick tubes down people’s throats and assume the role of their lungs. You can collect blood, Cerebro spinal fluid, urine, pleural fluid, biopsy organs and tumours. Patients will present themselves to you in life-threatening agony and beg to be sliced open and appendages removed.
Your role is endless.
And so is the responsibility.
It teaches you how to diagnose death and certify a corpse. How to meticulously find the cause of death and document it to medico legal perfection.
But medical school teaches you very little about life.
No one teaches you how to deal with the trauma of telling someone their mother is dead. No one teaches you how to console a grieving parent when their 9 month old baby just slips into the death-filled abyss.
And No one tells you what to do when people die because they didn’t have money to come to the clinic. In fact, medicine teaches you nothing of this kind. It avoids it completely. The social aspect is taught coldly and inadequately.
I met Prissca at a rural clinic during my community service years. She was a delightful middle aged lady who seemed to be intact and oriented in all spheres. She worked as a chef at a popular hotel on the coast line.
She initially visited us because of minor aches and pains, which is of course is, very common. But strangely, She was extremely paranoid and clutched a laptop bag to her chest. She avoided eye contact and peered at me through a slanted gaze.
I ordered some basic blood work and asked about possible drug use, which she denied. She seemed on edge and began talking to the wall beside me.
“Leave my laptop bag alone! You want to steal my laptop, i know you gangsters”
I looked at the wall, somehow expecting a reaction.
She was obviously hallucinating. I decided to refer her to a psychiatrist for further work up.
Over the next few week’s, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and initiated on treatment. She frequented the clinic at nights with unusual complaints in keeping with sensory hallucinations.
The staff became increasingly agitated as she would appear at 7pm and refuse to leave until the next morning. She would clutch her laptop bag and insist on staying as she believed someone was out to steal her precious laptop.
On a tuesday night i found myself stuck with Prissca and a very unhappy nursing staff. She came in and took her usual position on the casualty bed but she was visibly agitated. Vitals were normal but she was unhappy. Her laptop bag was missing. I was worried.
She darted around frantically as she tried to locate her laptop. She uncovered every bed and stomped around accusing random people of theft.
Her mood morphed into a volatile mess. She began screaming at the security guard who was minding his own business , watching Isidingo.
Before i could try and talk- down strategies, she sprinted out the room. I followed suit.
She ran like Bolt on steroids, making her way into the darkness of the night and out of the clinic.
She crossed the road without as much as a peer. Highly dangerous, as the roads were notoriously known for running down pedestrians flat.
I stood at the gate and watched her run along the middle of the road.
This was going to end badly.
So I ran too.
A small prefab house with a label “police station” was just up the dip of the road, so I was in a relatively safe area( I lied to myself).
I eventually saw her in sight and screamed for her.
She ran faster.
My petite legs worked to my disadvantage as i struggled to keep up.
My chest heaved as i screamed for Prissca. I knew there was only one thing to say.
“Prissca , I found your laptop”.
She stopped dead in her tracks, stumbling over her momentum.
She turned , and ran in my direction.
“Where is it? Who took it? Where did you find it? Wheres my laptop? Who stole it? ”
I struggled to talk as my lungs consumed the air in my mouth.
“Come with me, its at the clinic”.
She looked doubtful but sprinted back toward the clinic.
I sat on the road, trying to catch my unfit breath. The darkness seemed so innocent and harmless. Calming, in fact.
I propped myself up and made my way back to the clinic up the steep incline.
I walked in, happy to find Prissca at the gate, waiting patiently.
“I need my laptop. Where is my laptop. ”
I cringed. I don’t have her laptop.
I pacified her and lead her into the consulting room. I tried to make small talk about the small jog we just took. She wasn’t buying any of it.
“I want my laptop! Now! Where is my laptop! ?”
I decided to fabricate a story.
“Uh ….. its on its way. It was stolen but we have it now. Its safe. It’s being brought back. Just sleep for a few minutes. ”
Surprisingly, she seemed convinced.
She took out a cooked chicken foot from her pcoket and munched on it.
I stuck some ativan into her IV line and hoped it would sedate her before she realised i don’t have her laptop.
Thankfully, it did.
She was referred back to psychiatry and her absence over the next few week’s meant she was still admitted to hospital. I was glad.
I saw her again during the day, which was odd. She was cheery and happy, clutching her old trusty laptop bag with her.
She came into the consulting room and thanked me profusely for finding her laptop bag. She emptied out a small plastic container onto my table. I opened it to find 3 boiled chicken feet. She pulled an aromat sachet out of her left sock and emptied it onto the chicken feet.
I politely declined, and she insisted; grave-faced.
She smiled at me in anticipation. I gulped.
I took a chicken foot and began muching.
I swallowed and resisted the urge of my vagus nerves gag reflex.
She smiled at me and assured me she was going to bring a dozen more just for me. I smiled weakly.
Of course, I decided to go meat free for the next 3 month’s.